The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved legislation requiring a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases, paving the way for an expected vote next month by the entire House.

Supporters hailed the bill as necessary to curb an epidemic of handgun violence. Opponents argued that it would not help police prevent enough criminals from purchasing guns to justify the inconvenience to law-abiding citizens.The committee approved the measure on a 23-11 vote.

"I believe Congress is on the verge of transforming public opinion into public policy," Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. said at the outset of the debate. "The old, deceptive arguments against the Brady Bill have withered away, replaced by good common sense and a disgust with the bloody violence in our streets."

Former White House press secretary James S. Brady, for whom the bill is named, was present with his wife, Sarah, as the committee voted to send the measure to the floor. Brady was left disabled when he was shot by a gunman who also wounded President Reagan in 1981.

Reagan's recent endorsement of the bill, which he had long opposed, has given supporters new hope that Congress will enact the measure this year. It failed to win passage in the House in 1988 by 42 votes.

The White House has signaled that it might accept the bill if Congress passes key provisions of President Bush's crime bill.

Six Republicans who had opposed the bill in 1988 joined 17 Democrats to approve the measure.

The action came after the panel on a voice vote eliminated a provision that a handgun purchase could not be completed until the gun dealer received written certification that police had been notified of the intended sale.